Anthemos Georgiades | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Anthemos Georgiades

Background:  

Zumper CEO Anthemos Georgiades began his career as a business consultant, later working as an economic policy advisor and speechwriter for the 2010 British elections. However, a negative renting experience years prior stuck with him, and he eventually launched tech startup Zumper to improve the renting experience for consumers. The website helps people find properties for rent throughout the country.

The Mistake:

Even though out of college I had the feeling that I wanted to do something about [the challenges of renting an apartment], I didn’t really feel that I had the experience or the backing to really take a swing at it, so I first started in management consulting at the Boston Consulting Group.

I got a fast introduction to microeconomics and how companies run top-down, worked 20-hour days for three years and put in my time. But I didn’t really feel the satisfaction of actually having done anything myself, because management consulting is often about telling other people how to do their job—even when you’re a young 20-something. That always seemed a little off to me.

After that, I thought, “Great! I really want to have an impact. I wonder what the right kind of medium for that is.”

That’s where I ended up in a brief stint in British politics on the 2010 election. I was working for Philip Hammond, who is currently the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the U.K.

I was researching and writing policy proposals on fiscal policy and how to explain why potentially cutting back public spending was a good thing for the British public. It was a very challenging problem, but I still really had the itch from college several years before, so when I was at business school in the U.S. I finally found the time to go all-in on Zumper. The biggest macro factor that had changed from the first day I had the idea to 2008, when I really started the company, was the adoption of mobile.

When I started thinking about the idea a few years before, the mobile apps and iPhones and Androids really weren’t a thing or as good in 2012 when I really started Zumper in earnest. The world in which you can have a renter walk into an open house and book the apartment from their phone was actually possible, and so that’s how I came full circle back to the idea.

... having come as an outsider, we get to build it almost bottom-up, in the interest of the consumer.

The Lesson:

I came into this not only as a non-technical founder but also not from the industry. Even though my family has some real estate background, I had never worked in the industry when I started Zumper at the age of 29.

There was a wonderful naivety to coming into an industry without the legacy and understanding of it. It meant that myself and my co-founders approached the problem from the consumer side instead of thinking about how the industry was structured. We started with our first principles and tried to redraw how we thought the industry would look if a typical renter got to design it bottom-up today.

I think to start a company in real estate you either start it with deep domain expertise or you come in and try to rearchitect how it would work if you built the industry bottom-up today. We were very much the latter. I think it has advantages because consumers love what we build because we build it in their favor.

The disadvantage of doing it that way, with that naivety, is that it also takes 12 to 18 months to unpack where there are some fundamental truths about the residential rental industry. It took us a year and a half to learn, to study, to listen to the experts in the industry.

I think if I had come from the industry we probably could have built the company faster, but I think having come as an outsider, we get to build it almost bottom-up, in the interest of the consumer. That was a lesson I took away that might change the way someone else might approach doing something new.

Follow Anthemos Georgiades on Twitter at @anthemos.

Photo courtesy of Zumper

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